RE & Collective Worship in NI Primary Schools

1.5.2024 | Church in Society, Statements, Education, Transferor Representatives’ Council

Having intervened last year in the appeal hearing with regards to a High Court decision on the delivery of Religious Education and provision of Collective Worship in primary schools in Northern Ireland, Dr Andy Brown, chair of the Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC), said today, “The Court of Appeal Judgement is detailed and merits careful consideration. However, we are heartened by the Court’s view that there was no breach of the relevant Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Dr Brown (pictured) continued, “The TRC intervened in support of the Department of Education’s appeal to give important historical and contextual information which we felt had been overlooked in the original case. This included apprising the court that the churches had recognised areas in the RE Curriculum which need addressed and how TRC had, for some time, pressed the Department, successive Ministers of Education, elected representatives, and officials to remedy this. We are therefore pleased that the court recognised and referred to the work that is ongoing to refresh the Northern Ireland curriculum which will, of course, include consideration of ‘the complexion and changing needs of our modern society’, as recommended in yesterday's ruling.”

Dr Brown concluded by saying, “The teaching of RE is a vital component of the primary curriculum in Northern Ireland, an area in which children are able to explore and consider life’s big questions, in preparation for life outside the classroom. Given the history and context of our society and education system, RE gives space for children to learn about faith within the Christian ethos of our schools, which encourages and promotes the importance of recognising and respecting the different views of those of other faiths and none.

“We will continue to work together with all relevant agencies to ensure that children and young people across Northern Ireland have access to high quality Religious Education, which will enrich their learning and understanding of the world in which they live,” he said.

You can read the Summary Judgement here.

The TRC represents the interests of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in education issues in Northern Ireland and advocates on behalf of the three churches. Controlled schools are ‘church-related schools’ owing to the fact that in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, the three churches transferred their school buildings, pupils and staff into state control (hence the terms ‘transferor’ and ‘controlled’) on the understanding that the Christian ethos of these schools would be maintained in perpetuity. Between 1926 and 1947, the churches transferred approximately 500 schools to the government of Northern Ireland.

During the transfer process at the time, the Church leaders stressed that it was not simply buildings, which were being transferred, but pupils, and a concept of education directly informed and shaped by a Christian ethos. In return for transferring their schools into state control, the transferor churches were accorded statutory rights of representation on Boards of Governors.

The TRC overseas the appointment of over 1,500 governors to serve on the boards of controlled schools in Northern Ireland, who are known as ‘transferor governors’. The TRC works closely with statutory bodies and nominates four members to Education Authority.


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